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Special Features Index  

Spotlight Female Cross-Dressers

Cross-DressingWomen who Cross-Dress generally do so for reasons quite different from those that motivate men to cross-dress.  These historically and culturally significant women have worn male attire to accomplish many different goals.

  Gladys BentleyGladys Bentley (1907-1960), an African-American Blues singer, often performed in male drag and openly flaunted her lesbianism during the roaring 1920s and the relatively permissive 1930s. With the rise of repressive conservatism in the 1950s, she recanted in an attempt to salvage her career.  
  Sara BernhardtSarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), the most famous actress of her time, has been described as "the mother of all divas." She scandalized and titillated Paris by wearing pants, taking men's roles in some of her plays, and having numerous love affairs, some with women.  
  Rosa BonheurRosa Bonheur (1822-1899), the most popular artist of nineteenth-century France, specialized in painting animals. She sought and received government permission to wear men's clothes to protect her when she worked in dangerous environments such as slaughterhouses and horse markets.  
  Charlotte CharkeCharlotte Charke (1713-1760) was an actress and writer known for portraying male characters on the eighteenth-century English stage. When English regulations made it difficult for her to earn a living as an actress, she often chose typically male jobs, including puppeteer, grocer, groom, manservant, pastry cook, sausage-maker, and innkeeper.  
  Charlotte CushmanCharlotte Cushman (1816-1876) was one of the most famous actresses of her day, enjoying success on the stage in both the United States and Britain. Her repertoire encompassed a wide range of parts, including male roles such as Romeo in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and other "breeches parts."  
  Catalina de ErausoCatalina de Erauso (ca 1592-ca 1650) lived the rough-and-ready life of a soldier in the Spanish colonies. She became a celebrity in Spain when her true sex was revealed.  
  Greta GarboGreta Garbo (1905-1990) was a spectacularly successful actress and an androgynous sex symbol whose smoldering aloofness, combined with her penchant for cross-dressing, ignited the passions of men and women alike. Her cross-dressing performance in the film Queen Christina (1933) has made her an object of lesbian desire for more than seven decades.  
  Della Grace (b. 1957), whose identity has metamorphosed from lesbian to hermaphrodyke to transman to intersexed, is a photographer who uses cross-dressing in both her life and her art to confront questions of the performance of gender.  
  Annie Hindle (1847-19??) was the first woman to gain significant attention as a male impersonator in the United States. The vaudeville performer created a stir when she married her dresser, Annie Ryan.  
  Joan of ArcJoan of Arc (1412-1431) was a French peasant girl who became an important military leader. Though she was condemned to death by the Inquisition for cross-dressing, the Roman Catholic Church has since canonized her as a saint.    
  Frida KahloFrida Kahlo (1907-1954), a bisexual Mexican artist, was a masterful exponent of cross-dressing, deliberately using male drag to project power and independence. The intensity of her work and the personal suffering she endured in life have made her an international icon.  
  George Sand George Sand (1804-1876) was a bisexual writer as infamous for her cigar-in-hand cross-dressing as she is famous for her eighty novels, twenty plays, and numerous political tracts. Her cross-dressing and scandalous public tobacco smoking expressed her refusal to accept the low status accorded women in nineteenth-century French society.  
  Big Mama Thornton (1926-1984) was a powerhouse blues performer and songwriter noted for her no-nonsense stage presence and a penchant for cross-dressing. She not only established a signature rhythm-and-blues style of her own, but also inspired mainstream rockers such as Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin.  
  Related Encyclopedia Entries  
  Cross-Dressing in Literature  
  Drag Shows: Drag Kings and Male Impersonators  
  Takarazuka (All-Female Revues in Japan)  
  Transvestism in Film  
  Variety and Vaudeville  


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